When most of us think of addiction, we typically think of substances like alcohol, heroin, or tobacco.
But a more inclusive definition of addition, according to author Tony Schwartz, is "the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life."
If we use this definition, it's fair to say that nearly all of us are addicted to the Internet.
I'm no exception. In fact, when I became aware several years ago of how my compulsive behavior around the internet was affecting my productivity, health, and relationships, I set up some practices that would limit my exposure. I discussed these in two podcasts
These strategies included turning off notifications on my phone and mobile devices, only checking email 2-3 times a day, and focusing on my most important daily tasks before engaging with email/social media/meetings. Overall they've worked well and I've been able to stay on track and minimize distraction.
But over the last few months, I've started slipping. I've been checking email regularly throughout the day, looking at social media accounts more regularly, pulling my phone out of my pocket way more often, and spending a lot more time randomly browsing the web.
All of this started during the launch of my new clinician training program. I told myself that I had to be more connected during this time, so I could be available for any pressing issues that came up. While there may have been some truth to that, I think the Internet addict in me was also looking for any excuse to take over the reins.
Since I've fallen off the wagon, so to speak, I've noticed a decline in my overall health and well-being, and a definite drop in productivity. I've also found it more difficult to focus on the research and writing that is so important to my work.
But the worst part—and the effect that makes me feel more upset than anything else—is how these changes have affected the time I spend with my 4-year old daughter, Sylvie.
I've always been the person that cringes when I see a Mom or Dad pushing their kid on the swings and obsessively checking their phone the entire time. I haven't gone that far, but I do notice that I'm looking at my phone a lot more than I ever did before when I'm with Sylvie, and I see how negatively this impacts the quality of my connection with her during these interactions.
One of the hardest parts of dealing with Internet addiction is that, unlike booze, drugs, or gambling, it's socially acceptable—and in some ways, even encouraged.
In fact, it seems like every day a new technology is introduced that promises to make us "more connected": we can now check our email, social media, and the web at any time, from any place.
But is this really a good thing? It seems to me that the net effect of these technologies has been less connection, not more. Instead of simply being present in each moment and feeling connected with the people around us, our attention is increasingly elsewhere.
I worry about the effects of this. It's yet another way that our modern lifestyle differs dramatically from the environment we evolved in, but it's one that is rarely discussed or addressed.
With this in mind, I am recommitting to the principles I discussed in the two podcasts above. More specifically, I'm going to limit checking email and social media to 3 times a day, and avoid using my phone at all when I have dedicated play time with Sylvie.
If this is also an issue for you, what can you commit to? What steps will you take?
Chris Kresser, L.Ac